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NBA news and notes - 2.16.15
Sam Smith takes a trip around the NBA in his weekly Monday column
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By Sam Smith | 2.16.2015 | 2:05 p.m. CT
New York state of mind
The Knicks’ plan seemed to present itself clearly, though perhaps to many other than New Yorkers, who keep obsessing on Carmelo Anthony and his issues. Anthony, it seems obvious, is just a part of this, and it looks like a pretty intriguing three-year plan. You could see it developing in concert with Fashion Week in New York along with the All-Star weekend. One of the stars of the fashion extravaganza was the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is one of the more difficult players in the NBA with sports media, but he seems to love the fashion media, making numerous appearances and doing interviews and panel discussions. And he absolutely loves playing in New York as you could see in his hyped—even for him—All-Star game.
Westbrook is regarded as the players’ point man on fashion with his own various brands. The speculation among several in the NBA is when he becomes a free agent in 2017, New York and the fashion world is his destination. Which would fit with a nice, gradual plan for the Knicks. Given the Knicks have not won a title in more than 40 years, there’s no urgency to compete next season or in 2016-17. Plus, the thinking is it’s not essential with LeBron James still in his prime. So go slowly with the notion that Anthony is a great third option.
The plan would be over three seasons: Add a big man this season, someone like Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge or Greg Monroe. Since Gasol and Aldridge are in competing situations, someone like Monroe makes more sense now. The Knicks get their top five pick—maybe even No. 1 and perhaps Jahlil Okafor—and one free agent. Add a second free agent in the summer of 2016, though still retaining financial space with the expanding salary cap for Westbrook, who would complete the team with draft picks and free agent and a star. Then with LeBron heading toward the downside of his career, make a move back for a title. After all, it was six seasons before the Knicks won a title after they drafted Willis Reed. Phil Jackson is starting over with one player. Anthony is his Reed, though a bit older. It’s going to take a few years, but the finances figure to help the free spending Knicks going forward with a big jump in the salary cap coming in 2016. Anthony will just have to endure and persist until reinforcements arrive in the next few years. But they are coming.
Kyle Korver's a-typical ascension
The two most unlikely All-Stars were Jimmy Butler and Kyle Korver, both first timers. But Butler still is on his rookie contract in his fourth season, so there was time to develop. Korver is with his fourth team, the second oldest first time All-Star ever in his 12th season at 33, essentially a career reserve who before coming to Atlanta from the Bulls in 2012 had started a total of 10 games over the previous five seasons in Chicago, Philadelphia and Utah.
Before going to Atlanta in 2012-13, Korver had not averaged double figures scoring since 2006-07. There’s a saying in the NBA that after three years (five now with players coming out so young) you are who you are. Korver was a specialist reserve, three-point shooter off the bench. In the past year, he barely missed making the USA Basketball team and is an Eastern Conference All-Star. Which makes him a better model for life than basketball: Never allow anyone else to define who or what you are or what you can be. Just because a relative or boss or friend says you are something or can only be so much, it matters what you believe and how much you try.
Korver’s ascension to All-Star this season is the sort of inspiration sports can provide. It’s the best of sports. “I think there’s something to who knows what can happen when you put your heart and soul into something and do the daily work every day and try to be consistent and try to be open minded,” said Korver. “And surround yourself with people who can make you better. Who knows what can happen? It’s kind of a cool message, I suppose. There’s the saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I just try to be open minded and learn from it all. It wasn’t always easy. There were a lot of hard moments and sometimes you learn from the end of the bench. Sometimes you learn from injuries. If you can keep a good attitude and keep on working eventually situations change and you can put those things to use. I’ve always thought of myself as a basketball player. Shooting should always be what I do best, but I enjoy the whole game. I enjoy defense. I enjoy passing. I love setting screens. I like coming in and trying to block a shot on the weak side. I love x's and o's. I love working, For me, I’ve never thought of myself if I was labeled as a shooter, you can go and say whatever you want. I know that I love the whole game of basketball. So that’s what I’ve always believed in. Maybe now some people are changing their opinions a little bit and that’s great, but it really doesn’t matter because I have the most amazing job. I play basketball and I can keep working on getting better.”
All-Star media sessions
I attribute some of it to being in America’s dirtiest city—it really is amazing to be practically stepping around garbage walking the streets of New York—but Kevin Durant sure was cranky at All-Star weekend. First he told reporters they didn’t know (crap) and shouldn’t vote for awards and then saying, like the Seattle NFL player, he was only meeting his media responsibilities because the NBA was making him. Actually, he was doing it because he was cheap as Michael Jordan always skipped media session at All-Star to play golf and took the fine. Said Durant: “I'm only here talking to y'all because I have to. I really don't care. Y'all not my friends. You're going to write what you want to write. You're going to love us one day and hate us the next. That's a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y'all."
In recent weeks, Durant mocked an ESPN reporter for questioning the Thunder resigning of Nick Collison and famously said he’d play anyone who didn’t think he deserved his All-Star spot. Then he said he didn’t plan to play much in the game. Duncan also was caught on the screen yelling, “I’m a bad (guy)” after scoring 40 points against Denver. It’s not about to make Durant unpopular. He’ll be a great player much in demand as a 2016 free agent. But it’s too bad how many of this era’s of stars have become so full of themselves they cannot enjoy and have fun with the interaction with the public. We saw it as well this weekend with Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. The usually verbose Paul kept to basically one and two word answers much of the weekend, apparently still upset with media for his flap about the refereeing and the female referee. You can lose a lucrative State Farm contract that way, so it seems Paul has decided to say little for awhile other than in commercial rehearsals. I cannot remember an All-Star weekend with so many angry, snippy and unhappy All-Stars.
I think it was Stan this time, but you never know as it has to be a Van Gundy every time a coach is dismissed to say how badly and unfairly the organization treated him. The latest was Tyrone Corbin, who was only an interim, anyway, and not in any plan. Though I have to agree it made no sense for the Kings to change now. The Bulls don’t much mind as, although unlikely, given Karl is a much superior coach the Kings could move up in the standings, which would mean if they get out of the bottom 10 the Bulls get their draft pick this June. With your season already lost, 30 games left and the draft the next big topic for your fans, why would you change coaches now with a chance to lose that pick? That’s a pretty wild organization. It’s not trying to lose like the 76ers. The Kings tried to win. It didn’t work; you were on your second coach. You were trying.
Anyway, back to a Van Gundy and Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn. I think it was Stan—and he’d have a reason having left Orlando—to note sardonically the Magic change coaches a lot. Of course, nowhere near as much as the Pistons do, but there wasn’t a Van Gundy to condemn that. But if anyone is to fault the Magic it’s being too fair to Vaughn, who had to do one of the poorest jobs in NBA history. In fact, how about commending Magic management for not only hiring an inexperienced coach, but sticking with him so long while paying his millions of dollars annually. That’s a talented Magic team. Did you see Victor Oladipo in the dunk contest? Nikola Vucevic. Tobis Harris. Evan Fournier. Channing Frye. The Eastern Conference. It seems almost impossible to be as bad as they were without trying. They’re 3.5 games ahead of the 76ers with a roster far better than the Bucks’
NBA news and notes
You always have to appreciate Gregg Popovich, who upon winning his 1,000th game last week noted: “Had we not drafted Tim Duncan, what are the chances I’d be standing here? Not great.” There’s no denying Popovich is an excellent coach and understands as well as anyone the secret is relationships as much or more than basketball. And luck. Consider Phil Jackson, who also understands the right stuff. Jackson desperately wanted the Timberwolves head coaching job when he was a Bulls assistant, a job that went to Bill Musselman; Jackson then lost out on the Bucks job that went to Del Harris. A bit disappointed, Jackson stayed with the Bulls, Doug Collins was fired after the 1988-89 season, and that’s the rest of the story. Jackson, by the way, wasn’t a triangle offense advocate back then as he directed standard NBA offenses in the CBA, where he did win a title, and coaching in Puerto Rico. Jackson didn’t refine his philosophy until a few years with the Bulls
The Hawks figure to be up to something with the deal of first round pick Adreian Payne for a future No. 1. Their season had to be a surprise to them, as well, and now as good as it is and how little essential competition in the East compared with the West, the speculation is the Hawks have a move in mind this week and are also in the expanding Ray Allen derby.
Tim Duncan engaged in some of his usual sham, as Shaq coined: Short answer method, during All-Star weekend. Who do you want to dunk on: “I don’t dunk anymore.” Break down your fashion style: “I don’t do style. I show up for games.” Describe the perfect shot: “One that goes in.” But Duncan does engage the media, understanding fans do like him and want to hear what he has to say and know what he is like. How about that, preferring to speak with Tim Duncan during All-Star weekend?
You have to do something. USA Hockey magazine profiled former Jazz center, Greg Ostertag, a high level recreational hockey league player at 7-2. Said Ostertag: "I’ll be the first to admit that I never reached my full potential as a basketball player. I took it for granted that I was seven feet tall, and I rode that."
Bradley Beal being diagnosed with the third stress-related injury to his right fibula in three years has to be a big concern. Wizards center Marcin Gortat, who signed a five-year deal last summer, has become Carlos Boozer, rarely playing fourth quarters for the Wizards. Gortat told Washington media: “It’s really tough especially the last year I played pretty much every fourth quarter. It’s a coaching decision. You guys have to ask him why I’m not playing.”
How about Deron Williams with the fading Nets missing 19 straight field goals last week until finally making a few as the Nets closed the pre-All-Star week losing to the Grizzlies. Few have fallen as far as fast with so much left, two more seasons at more than $21 million a year.
Matching rosters with anyone it’s difficult not to consider the Coach of the Year race between just Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks’ Jason Kidd, the latter with much less acclaim. Said Kidd: “It’s Milwaukee.” Contributing was the ugliness of his Nets departure and Bucks hiring while Larry Drew thought he still was coach. But the Bucks became the first ever team to double their win total by All-Star break without anyone even close to being an All-Star. Atlanta has four. Said Lionel Hollins of the Bucks: “They’re a good, talented young team with a lot of quickness, a lot of athleticism. They’re long, they’re at the top [of the league] in steals, they’re at the top in forcing turnovers, they’re at the top in fast break points. They have a style they play and they play it extremely well, and they share the ball. That’s not overachieving. That’s a team that’s young and nobody knows about that is on the way up.”
It’s clear the players’ union wants to pick a fight with the NBA next time in collective bargaining with new players’ association director Michele Roberts pretty much threatening the league every time she speaks, the latest with a “forget that” on changing one and done to two. So it was interesting Saturday when the father of high school-to pros, Spencer Haywood, recommended two years. Haywood is a Hall of Fame finalist and had an excellent career, much in the ABA where he became the first one in court to challenge the NBA’s rule a player was ineligible for the NBA until his college class graduated. Maybe the NBA is not fully about education, but we know what the players’ association is about: Money now! Anyway, in perfunctory remarks Haywood mentioned his winning legal challenge and, unprompted, suggested kids are coming to the NBA too soon now. So it’s also no coincidence that the best teams, with the exception of your LeBron James generational player, concentrate on players who spent multiple years in college. Take a look, for example, at the winningest teams this season, the Warriors and Hawks. Said Golden State coach Steve Kerr: “It’s a different league. The league is a lot younger now, a lot of players coming into the league with only one year of college experience. So it takes time for them to learn the league and grow. One of the things I like about our team is most of our guys stayed in school for several years. Steph Curry was there for four years, Draymond (Green) four years. So there’s a different maturity level and awareness of how to play when you have that kind of development before you get to the league.”